Introduction And Project Methodology Management Essay
“As firms grow the role of the founder needs to change” (Burns 2007, p242). For the growth of a firm as well as for the behaviour of its entrepreneur-cum-leader, academic and business knowledge offers numerous simplistic models and frameworks. A key question is not only whether these models from two different subjects – growth model on one hand and leadership model on the other hand – fit together, but whether a certain industry with certain entrepreneurs demonstrates behaviour different to theory.
In this project, the group will explore how different entrepreneurs with different leadership styles and personality can still be successful in taking their creation through different stages of business growth for the same product/ service and how they can continue to maintain the differentiation. In the assignment, we will also test our findings (matching patterns and exceptions) with what we have studied in this module. Greiner’s five phase growth model and five stages of a business growth have been used (and sometime interchangeably) by us to test patterns from practice with theory for the low cost airlines (LCC – low cast carriers).
First, we did a group discussion to familiarise with the topic of growth stages and leadership approaches based on material of the MBA modules “Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management” and “Perspectives of Leadership”. Section 2 gives a brief overview of the group’s understanding of leadership approaches from academic knowledge and experience to be linked with practical evaluation later.
As from the second step the focus was ‘from practice to theory’ which is covered in Section 3. We decided for the Low-Cost-Carrier Industry to be evaluated.
Third, we defined which LCC Airlines to be evaluated and compared to each other and which features would be evaluated. Second and third stage of the project methodology is covered by Section 3.1.
Fourth, we collected primary and secondary data through intense research in press, internet, articles, personal interviews, etc. and bundled them into a template (see Appendix 2).
Fifth, we evaluated and compared the collected data for analysing as result (section 3.3).
Sixth, the results were interpreted to derive key messages and to test models (with what we have learnt in the MBA module on ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management’) (section 3.4).
At last, we felt responsible to use our findings for recommendations for the future of the LCC organisations and its entrepreneurs (Section 3.5). A conclusion covers the project groups’ lessons learned based on this project (section 4).
2. Groups’ Understanding and Theoretical Background
Academic research and general knowledge gives us frameworks to investigate practical examples of entrepreneurs concerning the development of their business and of themselves as leaders. Hence it is important to point out what kind of understanding the group has in terms of business growth models as well as entrepreneurial personality and leadership.
2.1. Growth Models
Our group’s understanding of business growth is definitely not that growth is the shortest connection between the starting point and the current point of time. Growth demonstrates phases of business increase as well as of decrease, stability, crisis, and changes. One of the most used growth models was developed by Greiner (1972) who pointed out alternating phases of evolution (creativity, direction, delegation, coordination, collaboration) and of revolution (leadership, autonomy, control, red tape). “Each phase of growth is followed by a crisis that necessitates a change in the way the founder manages the business if it is to move on and continue to grow” (Burns 2007, p210).
Churchill and Lewis (1983) developed a growth model covering five stages of existence, survival, success, take-off, and maturity. Very close to this is the five-stage model proposed by Scott and Bruce (1987) embracing the stages of inception, survival, growth, expansion, and maturity with focus on top management role, management style, and organizational structure. At least Burns (1996) suggested a four-stage model covering stages of existence, survival, success and take-off and summarizing “the main business imperatives as a firm grows in terms of the orientation of the firm (Ã¢â‚¬Â¦)” (Burns 2007, p218).
After an evaluation of several models the project group decided to consider Greiner’s five phase growth model and five stages of business growth as the theoretical framework to compare our findings.
Our group understanding of leadership is that it is a relationship through which one person influences the behaviour or actions of other people. For our investigations on entrepreneurs we are aware that there is a difference between leadership and management. The 7-S framework used in strategic management provides a distinction that managers rely on strategy, structure and systems whereas leaders are concerned with the soft Ss of style, staff, skills and shared goals. A key questions discussed in this group was ‘Is an entrepreneur a manager or a leader?’ At least he is both in one person. Hence it is valuable to consider both of an entrepreneur his managerial role as well as his leadership approach.
Mintzberg (1990) classifies the activities of organized sets of behavior associated with a position based on formal authority and status. He points out ten managerial roles divided into three groups which are linked to the evaluations of this project in section 3.4.
Regarding general approaches to leadership, we face in real business life, there is no mutual exclusiveness. Hence contemporary entrepreneurs may demonstrate several leadership approaches in one person. For this project, main leadership models of historic and contemporary research were to be considered, such as ‘leadership as a behavioral category’, the ‘styles of leadership approach’, the situational approach of contingency theories, the ‘transformational leadership approach’ and inspirational or visionary leadership.
3. From Practice to Theory
3.1. Frame of Evaluation
We decided that to ensure valuable evaluation, the industry of choice should be a young industry and it should provide industry and market growth within the last ten to thirty years, several start-ups associated with single entrepreneurial idea, and some industry consolidation. To bring in domain knowledge, we discussed that the whole group should be familiar with the industry either as customers or as managers working in that industry. At last we decided on the Low-Cost-Carrier (LCC) Industry since we all are frequent customers and one group member is in charge of a full service airline in a leading management position.
3.1.1. The Low Cost Carrier Industry
A low-cost carrier or low-cost airline (also known as a no-frills, discount or budget carrier or airline) is an airline that generally has lower fares as compared to full service airlines like British Airways, KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, American Airlines, etc.. To make up for the revenue lost in decreased ticket price, the airline may charge for extras like food, priority boarding, seat allocation, baggage etc.. The key characteristics of LCCs are multiple frequencies on a short/mid haul sectors, quick turnaround, secondary/tertiary airports, offerings in economy class only, usage of web/call centre based reservation system and not the GDS (Global Distribution systems), no food and rarely any loyalty programme. Low-cost carriers should not be confused with regional airlines that operate short flights without service, or with full-service airlines offering some reduced fares.
The reasons why LCC airlines came up in practice dates back to 1960s. Until late 1960’s, travelling by air was restricted to the higher classes of the society. Only from 1960’s, it percolated to the upper middle class, as costs came down and the fuel prices were low. There was increased demand for the huge middle class to travel by air if the same became cheaper. This underlying need was captured by the entrepreneurs in the form of Low Cost Carriers which was pioneered by Southwest Airlines in USA and was replicated in different ways all over the world. The momentum gathered steam with the increased globalization and integration from 1980’s onward. The regulatory regime defined by agreements between countries or regional groupings became more liberal and the frequencies of flights increased bringing the overall cost platform down. Further, the cost of the aircrafts and air travel came down due to the technological improvements leading to lower cost at higher volume.
The technological strides in ICT (information and communication technology) brought the booking system of the airlines at the doorstep of the passenger. He could be sitting in his environment, book a ticket, choose his own seat and print a boarding card. This reduction in costs due to technological innovations opened up an opportunity for LCC to establish its foothold by cutting on costs at different steps of its supply chain. According to Vesper (1990) the LCC industry demonstrates execution of two business entry strategies. Firstly, the strategy to develop a better product or service which is appropriate because of unsatisfied demand in terms of cheap flights providing no frills. The established competitors on the carrier market such as British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa etc. reacted against these new entrants but more or less very late. Hence some LCC airlines already established their own operations. Second, the strategy to meet supply shortages, particularly on the short-haul market, there was a market parallel to the railway industry. Currently, in spite of demand and supply in balance, some LCC airlines maintain their competitive advantages and continue to drive the market.
Since there were numerous LCC airlines operating globally (Appendix 1), considerations in deciding for LCC airlines to be investigated were to ensure diversity over different geographical markets to emphasise on a whole industry in terms of entrepreneurial behaviour and availability of information. We decided on 5 airlines as mentioned in table 1. (Please refer to Appendix 2 for data).
Table 1: Companies and entrepreneurs to be investigated
3.1.2. Key Evaluation Features
Burns (2007, p30) points out four different influences on owner-managers and entrepreneurs. Whereas ‘culture of society’ and ‘situational factors’ are not the focus of this project, ‘personal character traits’ and ‘antecedent influences’ were investigated to draw a picture of the individual background of the entrepreneurs. In addition we looked at ‘individual leadership approach’. In terms of organizational development and business growth we focused on five milestones (Table 2).
Table 2: Key features to be evaluated on chosen entrepreneur and his LCC airline.
Derived from the collected data based on the key features described above, three main issues were investigated to ensure a solution on growth models and associated leadership approaches in the LCC industry at least:
Why did they succeed whereas so many after and before them failed?
Development of the culture in the organization if any
Recommendations for the future
Please see Appendix 2 for the secondary data that were gathered through research on internet, press and media, newspapers, and television.
The key question for description and interpretation of the results is ‘Is there any pattern or consistency over all evaluated LCC airlines or not?’
In terms of the investigated ‘background and leadership of the founders’ Burns describes “antecedent influences on an entrepreneur which are most likely to result in them successfully growing their business” (2007, p45):
Well-educated: Two (Air Berlin and Ryan Air) of five investigated entrepreneurs do not have any academic graduation whereas the other three entrepreneurs have diverse degrees from Bachelor to Honorary PhDs. But all of them already had broad and in-depth managerial and professional experience at the point of time of idea generation.
Starts business because of positive motivations. All entrepreneurs had positive motivations towards their own idea and were convinced strongly that their business will be successful and will grow.
Leaves managerial job to start business: This was found to be different. Although all entrepreneurs had managerial experience before, their prevailing last step before becoming an entrepreneur in LCC industry was distinct. One was unemployed (Air Berlin), two had their own business (Southwest and Easy Jet), one was manager in the same LCC organization (Ryan Air), and one (Air Asia) was manager in a different industry.
Middle-aged (or very young?): We found a range between 28-40 in the age of the entrepreneurs for the point of time of the businesses’ starting point. They were 28 (Easy Jet), 30 (Ryan Air), 37 (AirAsia), 40 (Air Berlin), and 40 (Southwest) years old. Obviously no one entrepreneur was close to retirement and no one was very young (begin of twenties or even younger).
Willing to share ownership of business: All entrepreneurs shared ownership from the very beginning but in different ways and it is not obvious whether they had a general inclination to that or whether it was needed, e.g. to collect enough money for their start-up.
In terms of ‘personal character traits’ all of the following were founded as high in every investigated entrepreneur:
Commitment, determination and opportunity obsession.
Tolerance of risk, ambiguity and uncertainty.
Creativity, self reliance and ability to excel. Most of the entrepreneurs pioneered the LCC model for their home market as first mover and developed LCC business models later.
Control and rewards. We saw very strong control by the entrepreneur in all investigated organizations mostly aiming to bring down costs.
In terms of values, ethics, beliefs and norms all of the entrepreneurs worked very hard (“Everything for the company”) and expected a similar inclination from their staff. In daily business they appreciate each resource and hence aim to be most efficient.
Concerning ‘leadership’ all entrepreneurs provided an autocratic and patriarchic style with strong control, centralized decision-making and high closeness to their employees. A vision is part of their leadership approach as well derived more or less obviously from their individual targets for their life. Honesty, reliability and action as an example are further aspects; they all practice what they preach. This remains even during the growth of their businesses but the entrepreneurs developed different leadership styles. Some tried to keep the autocratic style whereas others tended to be more participative but all of them kept strong control. According to a major research study of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the most effective leader provides four common characteristics: Delegation of authority and avoidance of close supervision; interest and concern in their subordinates as individuals; participative problem-solving; high standards of performance. Except the former and the latter we found all aspects in later stages of growth but not consistently and not whilst the inception stage.
Regarding the motive for entrepreneurship, it is obvious that there is consistency in the way of idea generation. In all of the five airlines, idea for LCC was generated by individuals. For Southwest and Ryan Air, there were more people involved in implementation in addition to idea generator. Two of the promoters (Air Berlin and Air Asia) were forced to choose entrepreneurship due to professional circumstances.
There has been a considerable variance in the duration of the inception phase/ start-up. For example this phase in the case of Air Asia lasted for a year but for Air Berlin it took about ten years. But generally the other airlines exhibited a period of around five years. All organizations were run by the promoters except Ryan Air which had Michael Leary as its head due to the losses at Ryan Air. Financials were pooled by the promoters themselves but there was a variance in the financial capabilities – from deep pockets to just enough money to make operations run for a year. Two of the entrepreneurs (Easy Jet and Ryan Air) had strong financial backing.
In terms of environmental factors (PESTER) each airline had a different set of compelling factors. Due to the dismantling of the Berlin wall, airlines had a new segment opening up which was tapped by Air Berlin (political). Low fares attract more customers; ‘try to wean away customers from other modes of transport’ tapped by all the LCC’s (economic). The target consumer base for budget airlines was enormous: 500 million people live within three hours of Air Asia’s hubs in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, more than Western Europe’s entire population (social). Ryan Air started when there was a partial de-regulation changing the way the airlines flew (regulation).
Consistency in all LCC airlines was evaluated in terms of delegation (highly centralized with all the major decisions being made by the promoters/funders), coordination (there was a ‘very high’ level of coordination in three airlines while ‘high’ coordination in two them), and control (in Air Berlin there was very high level of control, while in the other airlines it ranged from medium to high).
For all the airlines the survival and growth stage has been a pretty long time except for Air Asia which has achieved tremendous growth in the few years of its start-up.
In this stage the LCC airlines demonstrated some small distinct behavior. The delegation level increased during this phase of the business except in the case of Air Berlin which followed low delegation. Coordination was medium in Easy Jet while was high in the remaining four. Control was very high in Air Berlin, high in Southwest, Ryan Air and AirAsia, and was medium in Easy Jet.
In four of the airlines original founder and management team are in place. The only exception is Easy Jet which had a CEO right from its start-up in 1995. This could be because the founder of Easy Jet had been a business man before this start-up and knew well how to delegate and where to focus.
Clear patterns of consistency can be seen in that all the airlines went for IPO in this phase, thus showing the willingness of entrepreneurs to share the growth of the firm. Furthermore, all LCC airlines took equity stakes and formed alliances with other airlines. For example Air Asia formed a partnership with Shin corporation in Thailand, Easy Jet purchased a 40% stake in Swiss charter airline TEA Basle. The reasons were two fold one to take care of certain regulatory issues in their markets and secondly to help grow faster. In addition all airlines initiated cost cutting techniques to take on the competition.
In the maturity stage the delegation level decreased for two of the airlines (Ryan Air and Southwest) in view of the precarious business model while continues low for Air Berlin. For Easy Jet and Air Asia the delegation level remains high.
On the other hand coordination and control are on high level in all airlines. All the founders maintain a very high level of control on the overall strategy and functioning of the airlines.
The external environment factors like the financial crisis, high oil prices, etc. have had the effect on the management structure and control mechanisms for majority of the airlines. There also have been roll backs on the investment plans. The promoters continue to hold power. Diversified equity base in terms of type of shareholders, further additional finances were raised through debt.
We perceive a clear distinction in terms of strategy and business models. Except for Air Berlin and Air Asia which have a hub and spoke model, all the airlines offer a point to point service. All LCC carriers have the same configuration of aircraft but Air Berlin differs on this aspect too.
LCCs achieve breakeven at much lower level of load factors (seat occupancy) than a Full Service Carrier. It has been observed that in all the LCC’s, the primary focus is to have high load factor in order to make good profits. All the LCC’s evaluated have a high on-time performance, offering customer the facility to make a reservation through web and call centre. Most of them have no prior seating arrangement and have additional charges for check-in baggage. Meals on board are charged and no refund is applicable in case of a missed fights. All the LCC’s are deriving good revenue from ancillary service offerings like hotels, cars and other packages through their website.
All LCC’s except Ryanair do worry about customer complaints and feedback. Ryanair has a bad name in terms of customer service and misleading statements to gain publicity. Loyalty in their targeted segments is driven by the overriding need for cheap travel, good timings, multiple frequencies and lower expectations in terms of customer service. Few LCC’s like Southwest Airlines, Air Berlin provide a rudimentary loyalty programme in terms of facilities and privileges to its members when compared with a Full Service Carrier, but it is enough for the targeted segment’s expectation
We can summarize all the above LCC’s on a continuum which depicts a pure LCC on the left side and a Full Service Carrier on the extreme right.
Figure 1: Continuum of LCC Airlines
There is clear differentiation in the development of culture in the organization. Air Berlin exhibits an autocratic culture which is represented through its boss. Air Asia exhibits the culture of its boss too, open and cheerful. Southwest and Easy Jet exhibit a less hierarchical structure, full of freedom to the employees while Ryanair exhibits a culture in between the spectrum. Ryanair is process driven organization with little freedom to employees for decision making. Important decisions are highly centralized. It has grown so much that if he centralizes any further, the structure cannot sustain it.
Hence there is no consistent pattern among these airlines from cultural perspective. However, we can definitely say that culture in these organizations is a reflection of the leadership behaviour of the founder entrepreneur.
Nevertheless all the evaluated LCC airlines did succeed so far whereas so many after and before them failed. Reasons for this can be seen in this project work. During inception stage there is consistency in high level of delegation, coordination and control. All entrepreneurs had been able to recognize and to deal with the most important and influencing environmental factors on their home markets. All the airlines focused on cost leadership as a competitive advantage and made concrete efforts to mitigate the risks. Air Berlin formed subsidiaries to do away with labor unions. Air Asia formed a JV in Thailand with the Thailand’s Prime Minster family business to keep the political risk in check. The use of standard aircrafts to the extent possible and internet check-in as the model of bookings were part of the scheme to reduce costs.
Hence the evaluated LCC’s can be depicted as follows on five stages of business growth. (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Five Stages of LCC Business Growth
With reference to figure 2, we can consider that LCC is a product being sold by these airlines. There has been no ‘basic’ R&D on this product by any of these airlines. What they have done is to do ‘applied’ research on the basic model of airline travel, to bring out LCC. Southwest Airlines pioneered this in the USA followed by modified versions of this by other airlines in other geographies. The trend in the figure 2 demonstrates that the growth of LCC has followed five stages of business growth, with the corresponding time taken by them for each phase and how the efficiency has changed. However, they are at different stages – for example – Southwest, Easy Jet and Ryan Air are in the expansion stages hitting the maturity stage in the current model, while Air Asia and Air Berlin seem to be in Growth/ expansion stages. Now the LCC carriers are facing competition from the full service airlines. This is because, full services play airlines are planning certain percentage of their seats at low prices to compete with LCCs. Hence the efficiency of the LCC product sale for our sample airlines has reached a plateau. Now the time has come for the LCC carriers to apply ‘development’ R&D to give an ‘S’ curve to this trend to modify the features of the product LCC. Different LCC airlines are doing this in different ways, e.g., Ryan airlines are cutting all possible costs, Easy Jet has targeted business passengers, Air Berlin wants to do everything possible for a good customer services, etc. This fits with the assertion of Schumpeter (1950), in that the technological progress can be seen as a continuous process in which capitalism constantly demands better value.
Figure 3: LCC Airlines in Greiner’s Five-Stage Model of Growth (source: Greiner 1972)
When we try to review (figure 3) the leadership and management styles within these five airlines vis-Ã -vis, our finding is that it largely reflects the leadership style of the founder entrepreneur than the stages of Greiner’s five phase growth model. For example, Easy Jet and Southwest demonstrate collaboration in their management style, while Air Asia is in between the control and collaboration stages. Air Berlin and Ryan Air has high level of control and less delegation.
Figure 4: Key Resource Factors in the Stages of Growth for LCC
With reference to figure 4, we have reviewed the resource requirement of the five LCCs. All the five airlines display that they had the resource requirements (financial, business, system and personnel resources) for different phases of growth as shown in this figure. For example, airline being an asset intensive business, they all had huge capital requirements at the start-up. They used a combination of models to meet their requirements – leasing aircrafts to purchasing them during start-up and survival phases. But in subsequent stages, they all followed the same strategy – owning aircrafts. To reduce on cost, Ryan Airlines had purchased old aircrafts also which was criticized by Easy Jet as cutting corners on safety aspects which could hit the LCC industry in case there were any problems to happen.
With regard to figure 5, we see that there is a commonality between what was practiced in different environments globally and the typical 5 stage growth model linked to leadership. Initially, in the start-up stage, everything is centralized and business and personal goals are the same for entrepreneurs which get decentralized, delegated and a formal structure coming in at the expansion and maturity stages. The financing is done primarily through personal resources initially which later on is internally generated and additionally through tapping of the stock markets and taking on debt from banks. As most have avenues for growth, they do not follow an active dividend policy and reward shareholders through capital appreciation
Figure 5: Key Management Factors in the Stages of Growth for LCC
Derived from our evaluation the entrepreneurship model on antecedent influences, personal character traits, and leadership approach can be illustrated only for the stage of idea generation and inception (see Figure 6).
Figure 6: Model of entrepreneurial antecedent influences, personal character traits and leadership approach in the stage of idea generation and inception for LCC
Most important is that the autocratic leadership approach (Tannenbaum and Schmidt 1973) is dominant which is in close relation to McGregor’s supposition of Theory X (boss-centered leadership) in contrast to Theory Y (subordinate-centered leadership). The contingency model of leadership by Vroom and Yetton (1973) covers the evaluated leadership behaviour as Autocratic I and II.
Bass (1985) points out four basic components of transformational leadership. First, idealized influence (leader charisma, respect of followers), second, inspirational motivation (display meaning and challenge to the work of followers), third, intellectual stimulation (new approaches for solutions, creative problem solutions), and fourth, individualized consideration (leader listens and provide concern to needs and development of individual followers). For the last two points the autocratic style of LCC airlines seems to be a contraindication. Yukl (2006) formulates some guidelines for transformational leadership which cover the results of our investigations: Articulate a clear and appealing vision, explain how the vision can be attained, act confident and optimistic, express confidence in followers, use dramatic, symbolic actions to emphasize key values, and lead by example. This is very close to inspirational or visionary leadership. Here the focus is on leader’s skills of motivating and inspiring people aiming to bring together goals and values of the organization and individual needs and values.
Particularly in the stage of idea generation and in the inception stage the entrepreneurs took all ten managerial roles which Mintzberg (1990) pointed out.
The entrepreneurs took a figurehead role (the manager as a symbol who represents the organization in terms of formality), a leader role (demonstrating responsibility for staffing, motivation and guidance of subordinates) and a liaison role (with focus on horizontal relationships between manager and individuals/groups as well as the organizations’ environment). In terms of informational roles we found the entrepreneurs in a monitor role (the manager receives formal/informal information from internal/external sources and develops an understanding of the working of the organization and its environment) as well as in a disseminator role (the manager as centre of information who transmits external information through his liaison role (see above) to the organization and internal information through his leader role amongst subordinates) and in a spokesperson role (the manager as a formal authority communicating to distinct stakeholders). And even in terms of so called decisional roles all entrepreneurs were very active. Here we saw the entrepreneurs in an entrepreneurial role (he is expected to initiate and plan controlled change by exploiting opportunities, solving problems and taking action for improvement of an existing situation and he may play a major part in aiming improvement and delegate responsibilities to subordinates), in a disturbance handler role (the manager reacts on involuntary and unpredictable situations and he is expected to correct a situation in case of unexpected disturbance), in a resource allocator role (the manager makes choices about resources allocation) and least in a negotiator role (this role arises from manager’s authority, credibility, access to information and responsibility for resources allocation and the manager participates actively in negotiation with stakeholders, e.g. works council).
3.5. Recommendation for the Future
We clearly see that future growth in LCC’s will be through collaboration with other LCC’s and full service carrier. In other words, Southwest will grow collaborating with full service carriers like United, American, and Lufthansa and vice versa. Though the early stages of growth were in different segments , having established in their own markets, both LCC’s and full service carriers are moving towards the middle of the continuum and we will see increased collaboration between them in future. Also the majority of the airlines are deliberating entering the long haul segment; Air Asia has taken the plunge through an equity investment into Air Asia X. The entry into the long-haul segment has to be considered.
One main point coming out is that a succession leadership team is not in place in most. Except for one airline (Easy Jet) the remaining airlines are still being run by the veterans. Therefore we feel that a succession plan should be formulated.
Evaluation and comparison of five LCC airlines is certainly not representative for the whole industry in every detail. It obviously provides interesting insights in terms of patterns and individualized behavior. Greiner’s five phase growth model and 5 stages of business growth provided a good framework to us to compare the growth of these airlines after start-up and create a connection between practice to theory and vice-a-versa. We recognizes high consistency among successful LCC airlines in terms of growth phases, though there have been few exceptions. Culture and management style in an organization depends largely on the founder member and subsequent leaders rather than the geography or the culture they belong to. Concerning personal character traits and leadership approaches of entrepreneurs, we can confirm Burns who stated that the “issue of linking the character traits of an individual to the success of a business – picking winners – needs to be approached with caution” (2007, p31). Nevertheless, particularly for the time of idea generation and inception stage there seem to be a framework that promises business success.
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